My youngest daughter is severely dyslexic.
We first noticed a difference between her and her peers when she was in Kindy, and the older she gets, the more marked it is. Diagnosing her dyslexia was a costly and time-consuming process, and despite intensive intervention at school and at home, progress is painfully slow.
Having a child with reading and writing difficulties is extra strange considering I spend my life reading and writing. It’s my chosen career, and for the most part find I it blissfully easy. Consequently, it’s been hard for me to take a step back and comprehend how the world appear to her.
Until I was sitting on the toilet recently.
I know that sounds strange, but bear with me.
We have an Auslan finger spelling poster in the toilet that I often find myself staring at.
I pride myself on being able to rattle through the hand signs for the alphabet pretty quickly, just like my daughter now is finally (almost) able to recite the alphabet. We are both pretty good when asked to go from start to finish.
But if you ask either of us to read (or sign) one of the ‘trickier’ letters – for her it might be H and F, for me it would be signing H or G, we will pause, no longer certain, without the context of the surrounding letters.
If someone proficient in Auslan sign language came up to me and started spelling ‘Hello, my name is Sam’ I would panic. I’d have to ask them to go very slowly, one letter at a time, translating the hand shapes to sounds, and trying to hold them in my head while I concentrate on ‘reading’ the next sign.
In an ideal world, when reading H-E-L-L-O, you’re still meant to remember the ‘H’ by the time you get to ‘O’.
But if I was watching someone sign the letters to me, I would probably be concentrating so much on recognising the ‘O’, that the ‘H’ would be long gone. The word I had just ‘spelled’ would be an incomplete collection of sounds and make no sense. I then imagined how hard it would be to keep an entire sentence in my head.
My heart sank.
That’s when I realised that’s what it must be like for my daughter every time we ask her to read.
And while I don’t have to learn the Auslan finger signs, she HAS to learn how to read and write English. There is no avoiding it. For her, it is a mountain that must be scaled. Every day for the rest of her life.
For her, reading is excruciating and labour intense, and without any certainly that sounding the individual letters will actually makes any sense once she’s done.
Despite the difficulties she has, she is determined to persist. She blows the rest of us out of the water when it comes to working hard. We are developing little rules that help her remember each letter shape and sound. What is automatic and easy for most of us, involves a number of laboured steps for her.
Funnily enough, one thing she can write with no issue is the phrase ‘I love you’. She writes it a lot. On cards and pictures, on scraps of paper, on the shopping lists, on post-it notes that she leaves next to my bed.
Yet the other week, when she had to read ‘YES’ it took about 10 steps.
First I wrote the phrase ‘I love you’ next to her word list. Then I circled the ‘Y’ in Yes and the ‘Y’ in You and joined them together, and then I waited. I watched her eyes dart from one phrase to the next, as she mouthed the sounds to herself.
‘I love you’ she whispered under her breath, ‘You’ and then she got to ‘Y’.
‘Yuh’, she said.
Then she looked back at the word YES. ‘Yuh – Eh – Ess’. She turned to be with a big grin ‘YES’ she shouted.
To which there was only one appropriate response: ‘I love YOU’ I replied.
This story originally appeared on Relentless, November 2018.